Sister of late VPD officer describes declining mental state at inquest

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Nicole Chan had alleged improper conduct — including sexual harassment and assault — against three male colleagues, leading to both criminal and internal investigations.

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If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE), or call your local crisis centre. Help is available in over 140 languages. You can also reach the mental-health support line at 310-6789 (no area code needed).

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Before her death in January, 2019, Vancouver police officer Nicole Chan feared she would never be able to return to the job she loved because of complaints she had filed against co-workers, her sister testified Monday.

Jennifer Chan told a coroner’s inquest that Nicole was “a little more depressed and sad” after getting news the month before her death of the results of one of her complaints.

“I remember she was telling me that she was very disappointed in the findings, or just disappointed in the whole process,” Chan said.

She learned from VPD Chief Adam Palmer on Jan. 27 that her sister — then 30 — had taken her life that morning.

Nicole Chan was off work on mental health leave. She had alleged improper conduct — including sexual harassment and assault — against three male colleagues, leading to both criminal and internal investigations. One of the officers, David Van Patten, was eventually fired.

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Her family has since filed a civil suit naming the Vancouver Police Department, the attorney general and three police officers. No statements of defence have yet been filed.

Coroner Susan Barth told jurors at the start of the inquest that their role is not to access blame or adjudicate the complaints that Nicole Chan made.

“This is not a forum to resolve civil disputes or to conduct prosecutions. An inquest is not a trial,” she said. “You will determine the classification of death and consider making recommendations to prevent similar deaths.”

Jennifer Chan, who works in the control room at CTV, recalled how close she was to her sister, whom she referred to in present tense Monday.

“She’s very passionate, loving. She puts all her heart into everything she does. And she’s very ambitious… she dives head in,” Chan said. “She loves being in the VPD. She has always wanted to be in the VPD. She took many steps to go toward that career.”

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But Nicole felt that nine-year-long career was in jeopardy because of the allegations she had made, Chan said.

“I think she felt like people in the VPD might not want to work with her because she did put forth a claim. And I think that’s not very common to … file a claim against your own co-workers in the same department that you always wanted to work at.”

Chan said her sister believed she was the subject of gossip and that news of her complaints “spread like wildfire.”

“As a victim in her eyes, she felt like she was isolated. And in the end, she didn’t really have too many friends in the department,” Chan said.

Chan was asked about earlier suicide attempts by Nicole in 2012 and 2016. She testified that she knew of one of the instances in 2016.

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“She was down in the States … and either the VPD or someone had to bring her back to make sure she was OK. And I was told later on it was a suicide attempt,” she said.

Despite spending a lot of time together over the years, Chan said she didn’t know a lot about the work complaints made before her sister’s death.

“I understood that she had a case against some officers at work. She didn’t tell me like a lot of details about it. It would be bits and pieces that she would tell me through conversations,” Chan said.

“I knew that she was on/off work for the last several years and put on light duties and desk duties. I knew it was something about an officer. I might be paraphrasing, but in my mind, I thought an officer was blackmailing her to have sex.”

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What she does recall “vividly” is getting called by her sister’s boyfriend on Jan. 26, 2019, who told her Nicole had locked herself in the bathroom of her Olympic Village apartment “and she had means to hurt herself.”

She was out for dinner with her spouse, but they left early and raced over. But Nicole wouldn’t let them buzz in. She later reached her sister, who claimed to be fine.

Later that night, Nicole was taken to hospital for assessment. But she was released and returned to her apartment, where she was later found dead.

“We didn’t know anything basically until later on that afternoon when Chief Adam Palmer and another constable came by my house and notified me that Nicole had passed away,” Chan said.

The Burnaby inquest is scheduled for six days.

kbolan@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/kbolan

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